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Punctuation

For 95% of my life, I used apostrophes when I wanted to show possession. An example:

The dog’s hat is bigger than Dan’s hat.

but in the last year, I read something that said this was incorrect. Some website about grammar explained that using apostrophes that way was a common error, and you should do it like this:

The cats car goes slower than Rebas car.

This looked completely wrong to me, and I’m sure I checked a few different sources, and they all confirmed that you don’t use apostrophes to show possession.

Well wouldn’t you know it, but I just Googled it again a few minutes ago, and now the top search results say that I was right the whole time. This is confusing, and maddening. I guess I was right for my whole life, but the Internet has once again made me stupider?

If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last year or two, and it looked like my punctuation was crazy, please just understand that it wasn’t my fault. I mean of course it was entirely my fault, but please still like and respect me.

Ever since I started writing online, I’ve found so many things that I apparently have been doing wrong when it comes to punctuation. When I was in school, I was great at punctuation and grammar, and now I’m wondering whether I have actually gotten worse at it because of second guessing myself constantly. Just in the last sentence, as I typed it, I thought “is gotten worse correct?” and “does second guessing need a hyphen?” I am not exaggerating when I say that this stuff comes up in about 50% of the sentences I write. Life is a burden.

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A Little Trick to Make Food Taste Better

When I travel on a plane, I don’t go out of my way to plan out any food. I usually eat before going to the airport, but I’m always careful to not overeat, in case it makes me ill or something. Sometimes I think how amazing it’d be to have some really nice food, like some Thai basil chicken or something. But airport food costs so much, it’s ridiculous.

So the trick is: If you’re ever at home, and you decide to go buy some take-out food, just before you eat it, imagine that you’re at the airport. Sit down with it, and think about how much it would cost there, and how happy you’d be to get it for $8 (or whatever) instead, and how excited you’d be to eat it. Maybe this will make it feel like an amazing luxury. Maybe not.

A lot of foodie tricks involve stuff like salt and balsamic vinegar, and they seem way, way better at first, but mine harnesses the power of PURE IMAGINATION.

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1972 Polaroid Promotion Film by the Eames Office

When I started watching this video, I was confused, and thought it was a modern video someone had made, trying to parody the style of 1970’s corporate films. I guess it was because of the video quality – this is 480p but looks pretty decent.

A minute or so in, I was thinking wow, whoever made this went to great lengths. The adult and kids in the art gallery was just a short clip, but their clothing and the art looked so perfect for the period. And the background music couldn’t be more 70s, with the flute parts and whatnot.

So anyway, of course it turns out that this is an actual promotional film from 1972, but wow is it great. Everything about it is interesting and looks fantastic. Polaroid hired the Eames Office to make this, and the music is by Elmer Bernstein. I love it so much.

 

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How This Site Got Its Admittedly Dumb Name

I just got an email reminder that this domain name is going to be auto-renewed tomorrow. This will be the 19th renewal, yikes.

I know what you might be saying: “Andrew, this domain is 19 years old? You’re so young, when did you register it, were you 5 years old?” The answer is yes.

Sometimes, people ask me why the domain name is “Be Nice To Bears”. It seems like a name that has some sort of meaning, like maybe I got mauled by a bear once, or I’m really into wildlife causes, or something like that. But no, I have not been mauled by a bear yet, but I’ll tell you where the name came from.

I don’t have the greatest memory, but when I do remember something from the distant past, I always remember where I was. In the case of this domain name, I was leaving work at this Internet company in Toronto where I did tech support. I had been thinking for a day or two about buying a domain name, but I didn’t know what to get. Then, as I was waiting for the elevator to come, the phrase “Be nice to bears” came into my head randomly. I remember thinking something like “Haha that’s dumb, I’ll use that”, and I registered it once I got home.

And that’s it. For 19 years after that, I’ve owned this domain, and had all sorts of different things hosted on it. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars in domain renewal fees, not to mention various hosting costs, and all because of just some really weird little electrical impulse that made me think of bears. I bet that I had just heard someone say something a day earlier like “I guess it’d be nice if this system could bear the load” or something, and those words were just sticking in the back of my brain.

Sometimes I think it’s weird that the most random, tiny things can really make big impacts, but I also think that maybe I’m just mentally stupid. For instance, the actual reason that I’ve been updating this blog this year is because of 1 stupid joke I made on Twitter. I wrote that tweet, then a few minutes later I thought “that tweet wasn’t very good, it doesn’t make sense unless I start blogging”, and so I changed some DNS settings, installed Wordpress and wrote a post. I guess that doesn’t prove anything about random, tiny things, because most people are huge spazzes that would do that.

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Giorgetto Giugiaro Designed the Delorean, but Also Some Classic Cameras

I have a weird little thing that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else talk about. I love it when you can buy items designed by legendary designers for a reasonable price. If you search Ebay for “Dieter Rams” for instance, you’ll find quite a wide array of his work, and it’s possible to buy a clock, lamp, lighter for between $100 and $200.

I’m not a car guy, and until recently, I hadn’t heard of Giorgetto Giugiaro. After reading some little thing about him, I looked him up, and immediately recognized a bunch of his work, including the DeLorean DMC-12 and some older Volkswagens like the Golf, which I always loved. Go ahead and check his Wikipedia or this history, and you’ll that he designed over 100 cars, for tons of manufacturers. They all look great.

The most exciting thing for me though, is that he also designed a bunch of cameras for Nikon. I’m a camera guy, and these are fairly iconic cameras that I love, but I never gave any thought to who designed them.

Giugiaro designed 10 cameras for Nikon, many of which are fairly affordable right now, which is a real problem for me, because I already have two 35mm SLRs that I love – the last thing I need is a whole collection. They’re so nice though, I’m sure I’ll wind up getting one or two sometime soon. I’m going to run down some of the highlights of his Nikon work.

Nikon EM

Nikon EM. Creative Commons photo by Damiano Ceron
Nikon EM. Creative Commons photo by Damiano Ceron

This was the first camera Giugiaro designed for Nikon, in 1979, and it’s a very standard-looking 35mm SLR. Not my first choice, but you can find them quite cheap on Ebay. A body, with no lens, goes for in the ballpark of $20. You can find one with a lens or two for $40+ if you look, although there are also expensive options in great condition, etc.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 by JamesPFisherIII , CC License
Nikon F3 by JamesPFisherIII , CC License

This is Guigiaro’s second Nikon, and has the red accent that he used from this point onwards. I love this camera, but they tend to sell for about $300 and up on Ebay, with a few exceptions here and there. The most common variant model is the F3HP – the HP stands for high point, which means the camera has a bigger viewfinder, and is easier to use for people who wear glasses.

Nikon L35AF Pikaichi

Photo credit: Alfred from Germany, CC licensed
Photo credit: Alfred from Germany, CC licensed

This is a style of camera I don’t actually love that much, but this one looks quite nice. The Pikaichi in the name means “top notch”, and this camera has, by all accounts, a great lens, and takes great pictures. It takes AA batteries, which is so nice for a camera of this age – finding batteries for some old cameras is such a headache.

Quite a few of these have sold lately on Ebay for $50 or less, although some have also sold for about $200. I’m sure they most of those were in amazing condition, but that seems like a huge range – patience pays on Ebay.

Nikon F4

Photo credit: Austin Calhoon, http://austincalhoon.com - CC licensed
Photo credit: Austin Calhoon, http://austincalhoon.com – CC licensed

This is the one I want the most. I’ve watched reviews and overviews of the F4 and F4S on Youtube, and it’s so nice. It looks amazing, but is also quite a full featured, modern camera, as far as 35mm SLR film cameras go. The photo above has an optional battery pack on it, and it looks pretty big, but the battery pack is important, and I wouldn’t get one without it. The F4S version (released simultaneously with the F4) has a bigger battery pack, that takes 6 AAs instead of 4.

This thing is really modern compared to what most people (or me anyway) think of when it comes to pre-digital cameras. The metering system was very advanced for its time, and there’s a motorized transport system in there to advance the film, and rewind it once you’re done a roll.

Tons of these seem to sell for around $150 and up. I didn’t go and check the condition of each of them, but from the thumbnails, they mostly looked to be in pretty decent shape.

To me it’s super exciting that for less than $200, you can get an absolutely beautiful camera, designed by a great designer. But that’s just part of it. When it was released, this was the most advanced camera ever, and incredibly high end. This thing cost over $2000 USD in 1988. Adjusted for inflation, that’s just over $4000 today.

An interest contrast is actually the DeLorean DMC-12. As mentioned, this car was also designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. When it was released in 1981, the suggested retail price was $25,000, which if you adjust for inflation is $66,000 in today’s terms. That’s how high-end this camera was: Essentially, fifteen of them were equivalent to a Delorean (kind of – you get my point).

So, this camera sells for about 5% of its original price, once inflation is factored in, it looks amazing, and you can still use it to take great pictures. I love everything about this. Ugh, I bet I end up buying one of these by the end of the weekend.

Nikon F5

800px-nikon_f5

This came out in 1996, and is quite similar to the F4 in many ways. This thing is huge, and takes 8 AA batteries, wow. It currently sells for a bit more than the F4 – I’d say an average of 50% more on Ebay.

It’s still a great deal really if you like how it looks, and/or are into film photography.

Nikon F6

800px-nikon-f6_mg_2034

The F6 was released in 2004, and is the most recent non-digital camera that Giugiaro has designed for Nikon. Somewhat improbably, this model is still in production today, and as of this writing sells for about $2449 (here it is on Amazon). I’m sure it’s really nice, but this price defeats the whole idea behind this article, so whatever.

Digital Cameras

Giorgetto Giugiaro designed four digital Nikons. The D2H from 2003 costs a few hundred bucks on Ebay, and I honestly can’t imagine who would pay that. Old digital cameras are usually insanely hard to use, because their storage media and batteries are obsolete and the photos stink. I can only assume that the people who buy this stuff are just old guys who are too lazy to research what modern digital cameras are like in 2016 (they are amazing and cheap).

The other digitals that Giugiaro designed for Nikon sell for ridiculous prices, and are also outdated and pitiful. The less said about these the better.

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Streaming Vector Face Chat App (Great Post Title haha)

This is an app idea I’ve thought about a bit. I’ve used Facetime, Skype and Google Hangouts to do video chat over the years, and the video quality hasn’t gotten much better over that time. The small improvement is, I think, mostly due to laptops/phones/tablets having progressively better cameras.

The main problem is bandwidth. I’m not sure if I’m atypical, but I usually use video chat when I’m travelling, often with terrible hotel wifi. This results in choppy, frequently interrupted video. A lot of the time, the app will detect that the network quality stinks, and will start streaming 240p video, no matter what resolution the camera is. Quite often, the lighting is bad too, so the camera has to turn the gain way up to like 12800 ISO or something.

A good solution might be to have a video chat app that filmed your face, but then converted it to some sort of vector graphics format, and then just sent that data, which would be way less bandwidth intensive. This would guarantee that you’d have a smooth chat with the other person, without it being choppy, slow, and cutting out all the time.

While chatting, you would just see what would essentially be a rotoscoped version of the other person, but it’d be very smooth, there would be no image noise, etc.

The thing is, I think that the technology to do this very smoothly, and very realistically (it would get annoying if the graphics were too cartoonish) is way more viable than even a year ago.

The obvious proof of this is Prisma, the app that takes a photo and breaks it down and then repaints it, using uhh.. AI or neural networks or something? I actually am very into ML, AI, NN and many other of those 2 word acronyms, but I still haven’t found any great explanation of what Prisma is doing.

[note: The cover image for this post is a pic of me pretending to be on the phone, which I ran through Prisma about 3 times in a row, because just running it through once was too realistic, and it seemed like I was posting a selfie or something]

Prisma proves that a mobile device now has enough CPU/RAM to really chug down an image into vectors, and that’s great, because I think more people have a great smartphone than have great network conditions anywhere they go. Doing a video chat app that used vector graphics would, I think, save a ton of bandwidth, which could be used to make sure the audio was great (another thing that frustrates me when using the current programs).

Okay so that’s all, someone go ahead and invent this. I’m still a ML novice, and a complete noob at getting people to give me money to hire people/make apps, so I don’t think I’ll get to this one.

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Technological Unemployment, Customer Support and an Anecdote about Some Shady Guys from Thailand

A lot of people are talking about technological unemployment lately. This, if you’re not aware, is the idea that as technology gets better and better, a huge amount of jobs will become automated, leading to unprecedented levels of unemployment.

I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but I’ve been paying attention to some of the discussions. Some of the more common reactions I’ve seen to the problem are things like:

  1. This is going to usher in a new golden age, where nobody needs to work and everyone can do whatever they want all day.
  2. Who cares, don’t be a luddite. New jobs will open up, we just don’t know what they are, because they don’t currently exist.
  3. Oh yeah, this is bad, we need a solution.

There are, of course, other reactions, but those are just the ones I see the most. I wanted to talk about the first two really quickly.

My first thought – hey, whoa whoa wait a minute, can I remind everybody that I don’t write proper essays on this blog, and it’s basically just a scrapbook where I throw things up? Yeah, I can remind everybody, and I am. Remember that.

Scenario 1 – Golden Age

So my first thought is in regards to massive job automation giving us all a wonderful heaven-on-earth type of situation. I actually don’t think this is an unreasonable prospect, although holy moly does it feel extremely unlikely and weird, just on a non-logical, visceral level.

I find that so, so often, I end up thinking about human evolution and how it relates to different issues (I understand that most of my readers are strictly into Raëlism, but please read the evolution part of this post anyway). In the case of technological unemployment, there’s one thing I keep focusing on is that the human brain has evolved over 6 million years in environments where it was really, really important to work, and do productive things.

So many motivations/behaviours that drive humans boil down to this, and I really wonder what would happen to most people if they suddenly had 8760 hours a year to kill. The human brain is not made to handle that, and I think the results would be incredibly unpredictable, and probably not great.

There’s a group of people we can look at to see how they might handle this: Rich celebrities whose careers have slowed down.  They are in this same basic position: They have unlimited time on their hands, no urgency to make money, and they can just do what makes them happy.

I think most people could probably agree that, as a group, these people do not handle life very well. The good news is that there are a whole lot of them to test this out on (this is not great news for them). If you sit and think of a bunch of them, and Google their name along with the words “assault”, “mugshot” or “addiction”, you will probably get relevant hits on more than 50%.

It’s not a perfect test, but I don’t think it’s that controversial to say that a lot of people are not prepared for having too much money and too much free time. I think it’s because the human brain just hasn’t evolved that way, and it breaks badly when this happens.

So I’m not saying that what seems like an amazing utopia will lead to 7 billion individual versions of Foxcatcher, but actually I am. That’s exactly what will happen, wake up sheeple.

Scenario 2 – Everything Will Be Fine Somehow

I don’t like the logic behind just saying “Well, some people in the past thought we’d run out of jobs, but it turns out we invented a bunch of new ones, therefore it can’t possibly happen any other way”, but a lot of people do say this, and seem to think it makes sense.

The circumstances surrounding technological unemployment are much different than other huge labour disruptions. For one thing, this time, the insurgent labour force (computers, which are essentially salads made of microchips) will be able to do basically everything that humans are doing right now, not just a few tasks, as in previous eras. This means that even if we do come up with new job ideas, some smartypants computer will probably just think up a way to do them better than humans.

So one thing I’ve been thinking of is actually that maybe the ultimate job that computer programs won’t be able to replace will be: Customer support.

“Andrew”, you say, “This is actually the main thing that every gosh darn bot company is working on! This is maybe the perfect use for AI and bots and all that stuff! What are you, a fat idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?”

Yes and no. I’ve seen a couple of demos of very cool computerized tech support chatbots myself, and they’re really impressive, but I’ve been thinking that there’s a limit to how much they should be used. Let me explain.

Customer support

I have a million thoughts on customer support and tech support. My first job in the tech world was doing tech support, and then when I started my first web app, I did most of the tech support (with some help for a couple of the busiest years).

I don’t think you can overstate how important customer support is to a business. I find it incredibly satisfying to work on. I have to admit I haven’t always been perfect at it on my own sites, because of time/resources issues, but I’ve often thought that I’d really love to actually head up some sort of customer support research institute, or set up customer support systems somewhere, come up with guidelines, all that stuff.

I think support is becoming more and more important. It’s becoming easier and easier to create a good software product (obviously I’m not saying it’s easy, but there are more guidelines and known best practices, etc.) so providing really good customer support is a strong way for a business to differentiate itself from competition.

One thing I’ve found by doing so, so much support myself, is that customers care so much about dealing with a real person. People are not just there to ask a question, have their problem fixed, and move on. They love to chat about things that aren’t really pertinent to their technical problems, and they’re just generally very friendly, and grateful.

So this post is getting long, I’ll tell you what, I’m just going to wrap it up here with a quick summary, and then tell two anecdotes.

The summary is that I think one of the last jobs that might remain for humans could be customer support. Being able to talk to a real human to get your problems fixed could be a very powerful thing. Oh yeah and also the first half of the post was about how in the best case scenario, everyone is going to go crazy anyway.

These Two Crazy Guys from Thailand

As I mentioned, my first web job was doing tech support for a web hosting company. This was a very long time ago, and I’m not under any NDA, but I’m going to change the company name and my boss’s name anyway, just to maintain a little privacy.

Before I was hired, my boss did all the tech support. Once I started, I quickly saw that there were these two guys from Thailand who ran some quite nasty-sounding adult sites who were big customers. They paid a lot more for their hosting than the typical customers, and they weren’t super technical, so they had us setting up their billing pages and whatnot for them.

So these guys were friends, and if I recall correctly, they ran a couple of sites together, and then had their own individual sites. Their sites would have different niches, and they each had a number of them, and kept adding new ones.

I swear, every single morning, me and my boss (I’ll call him John) would log on, and at least one of these guys would write saying something like “John, you have to help, I was trying to change something on my billing page and it’s totally broken!!! You have to fix it!!! I’m losing money!!!” This happened so often, it was insane. They never stopped messing with their billing pages and cgi-bins and whatnot.

They also both (let’s call them Tom and Tim) wrote to us several times saying “Listen, John, you can’t tell Tim this, but his new site is doing really well, so I stole the whole thing and I set up this secret new domain. Can you set up the billing scripts, and DO NOT TELL TIM.” They both did this.

I wonder a decent amount about whatever happened to those guys and their businesses, but even if I remembered the exact set of words in their domain names (often following the pattern: adjective-nationality-gender.com), I’m not sure I’d go and check.

A Weird Tech Support Thing I Noticed

This isn’t as fun, but probably most people who actually read this site remember that I ran Diaryland, a blog-hosting community. About a year into the site, when blogs really started exploding and were the hot thing online, my site was getting tons of signups every day, and the premium, paid plans were getting a very constant, predictable amount of new customers every day too.

For a little while, the site was running on a couple of dedicated servers that couldn’t handle the big bursts of traffic that would occasionally come in, and there would be a lot of nights when things were bogged down and loading slow for an hour or two. Sometimes, this would lead to one of the servers completely crashing, and I had to perform a number of upgrades to more powerful servers, which always involved downtime.

The weirdest thing was, whenever the site had a downtime of a few hours, I’d be freaking out and working as fast and hard as I could to get it back, and I always assumed that people would be super mad at me and yelling at me in the tech support tickets. And of course, yes, people were mad, but shockingly, once the server was back up, the majority of the tech support tickets would just be people thanking me for getting the site back online.

I’d also get a lot of emails when the site was down who would be yelling at me, and I’d always reply and say sorry, and that I was working on it, and I’d say maybe 90% of people instantly responded apologetically, and suddenly were very friendly and supportive. The key here seemed to be that what people were really mad about wasn’t that the site was down, as much as their uncertainty as to how long it would be down, and whether anyone was really worrying about it or working on it. Just saying “Aaaah, I know, I’m sorry, believe me I’m trying to get it fixed ASAP!!!” assuaged all their concerns, it seemed.

Another odd thing: Right after outages, the number of people upgrading to a paid account would always spike for a few hours, and I’d often make double or triple the amount of normal revenue for that day. If the site was down for 8 or 9 hours, as it was a couple of times for major hardware repairs/migrations/whatever (this was a different time, running stuff was way harder, don’t judge me!), this pop in sales would actually be almost a little more pronounced. I guess there are obvious theories as to what was up with this, but it was always extremely odd to me that it kept happening. (And it goes without saying but this would be an exceptionally stupid thing to purposely try and replicate or exploit somehow.)

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Can I Not Look at My Own Face for a Year

The other day, I was wearing a pretty ludicrous, misshapen sweatshirt that I own. I looked pretty dumb, and I passed my camera to someone, so that I could get a photo.

I got home and as I began to go through the six or sevens photos, it occurred to me that maybe I should post one online. It turned out that I couldn’t, because I looked much too goofy in them (I deleted them all, in case you were expecting me to post one).

While I was comparing them, though, I was forced to look at myself for about two or three minutes, and it got me very agitated. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realized that it was my face. While reviewing the pictures, I was forced to look at my face over and over – way too much.

I realized that the problem isn’t that my face isn’t fat or an unpleasant shape – it is both of these things, but that’s not the problem – I think the real issue was that I’m just sick of looking at my face. I’ve been looking at it at least several times a day for pretty much my whole life – enough is enough.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about being tired of their face. I don’t understand why it isn’t a more common thing. I never judge people personally on their faces, but let’s be honest, some of the faces you see out there – they’re not all great.

Realistically, I’d say maybe 10% of faces are great, and the rest are average. So for that top group, sure, go ahead, look at your face all the time, take all the selfies you want, you’ve got a great face – but if I had to estimate how much of the population is in that upper tenth percentile, it’s probably only 15-20%.

So why isn’t everybody else sick of their own face? Who cares. Anyway, I’ve decided to try and spend the next year without looking at my own face.

You might be saying “Andrew, is this like 2014 where you swore you were going to eat 600 steaks in one year, and then you barely made it to 200?” – not really, the problem then was that beef prices went way up locally.

You might be saying “Andrew, is this like 2016 where you swore you were going to eat 2000 chicken wings?” – well I don’t actually remember how many I said, but shut up, 2016 isn’t done yet and I still have a pretty clear shot at hitting that number.